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App Will Soon Let People Rate A Location's Accessibility

Richard Rutter

Missouri is home to two of the nation’s least accessible cities - St. Louis and Springfield. A group named WalletHub gatheredinformation to compile this list of accessible cities. And one criteria it used was how easily people with disabilities can move around. Or, in the case of these cities, can’t.

But a new accessibility app called Compeer is currently being beta tested and may soon be able to help those with disabilities navigate cities more easily.

Gabriella Garbero is a beta tester for the app and uses a power wheelchair to get around. She is a freelance film editor who lives in Columbia, and she has been rating businesses and streets on their accessibility for Compeer.

She said Columbia has aging pavement.

“Super uneven pavement,” she said. “It’s a lot worse here than where I’m from in St. Louis.”

Garbero rated the sidewalk accessibility of Britches, a clothing store, on Compeer. She gave the pavement option on the app a bad review.

“Even pavement - uh, I'd say no,” she said. “The business has a small lip outside the door.”

Garbero said Compeer app users may notice things that they hadn’t seen before, like uneven pavement. The app also allows users to judge music volume or lighting that may make some businesses less accessible for people who have vision- or hearing-related disabilities.

Another Compeer beta tester Genevieve Conti said she uses the app to make sure her boyfriend’s grandmother can go out to dinner with them.

“Some of my favorite restaurants really love mood lighting,” she said. “And that’s good for dates, but bad for people who don’t have 20/20 vision.”

Conti said she knows which businesses her boyfriend’s 95-year-old grandmother can access easily because of reviews from other Compeer users.

At the same time, Compeer isn’t the only accessibility technology available. Not even in Columbia.

Chris Fulcher is a University of Missouri professor involved in an unrelated research study on disabilities.

“This disability research study was going with tablets and phones, looking at sidewalk cuts, to see if people in wheelchairs can navigate sidewalks,” he said.

Fulcher is also the co-director of the Center for Applied Research and Environment Systems at MU. Fulcher is also the co-director of the Center for Applied Research and Environment Systems at MU. He said he finds the app interesting because of his research on similar projects including MUCATS (MU Campus Accessibility Tracking System) and Community Commons, which is a web-based tools to monitor accessibility in an area.

Yet the difference between Compeer and Community Commons is the accessible design of the accessibility app itself.

Compeer’s designer, Emily Stewart, said apps you can install on your phone can respond to accessibility preferences you set on your phone, like larger type, that the web can’t. It just takes a little more work.

“If the developer puts in the extra bit, then the rest of that type will respond to that - and get larger,” Stewart said. “That’s a clear advantage over the web because - to my knowledge - websites really can’t respond to that without their own system."

Stewart said she has also followed Garbero’s suggestions on the design.

For instance, Compeer has a button-less option on its interface. So no tiny navigational buttons or home buttons if those are difficult for you to use. Instead a user can just swipe their fingers across the screen to navigate between pages.  

“Yeah they did that on purpose - I told them to,” said Garbero.

Compeer is coming out in July. But Fulcher said it’s important to remember that accessibility technology is not a solution by itself. He said his online application and the Compeer app will hopefully spark  a conversation about what limits access in Columbia, like those cracks in the sidewalk.

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